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Increase in digital connectivity but many are still left out

  • Category
    Polity & Governance
  • Published
    23rd Nov, 2021

Context

Recently, it has been found that Internet connectivity has shot up over the last year, with most new users attributing their new connections to the covid-19 pandemic and shutdowns. However, a nationwide lockdown survey found that remote work, education, and healthcare are still not equally available to all, even those with digital access.

Background

  • A recent national survey has revealed that internet usage had more than doubled in the past four years.
  • Among the aged 15-65 population, 49 percent said they had used the internet, compared to only 19 percent of the aged 15-65 population claiming the same in late 2017.
  • LIRNEasia, an Asia Pacific think tank focussed on digital policy, tied up with the Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations, to take part in a global study funded by Canada’s International Development Centre to assess the socio-economic impact of Covid-19 by analyzing access to services, with a focus on digital technologies in healthcare, education, and work.

Analysis

How did Covid-19 impact digital connectivity in the context of healthcare, education, and work?

  • Healthcare: Recently, Connected health, also known as Technology-enabled Care (TEC), involves the convergence of health technology, digital media, and mobile devices.   This technology has enabled cost-effective solutions at a time when the demands on health and social care services continue to increase.
  • Education: Connecting schools and utilizing them as a hub for learning and community activities can significantly enhance young peoples’ skills, especially in remote areas. During the lockdown period, most schools and colleges shifted their classes online. This helped in continuous learning as well as timely completion of the syllabus
  • Work: The rising wave of the COVID-19 outbreak in Indiahas forced the corporate world in the country to opt for ‘work from home’ widely. It helped IT sector industries mostly however other manufacturing as well as hospitality suffered from economic loss. It caused the lower payment of salaries &perks to employees.

What did the study find about the pandemic’s impact on Internet access and use?

  • It was found in a survey that 47% of the population are Internet users, a significant jump from the 19% who were identified as Internet users in late 2017. An extrapolation of respondents would indicate that 34 crore people in the country were already online before 2020.
  • Men are still using the Internet more than women and there is a 37% gender gap among users, although this is half of the 57% present four years ago. Similarly, the rural-urban gap has dropped from 48% in 2017 to just 20% now as more rural residents come online.
  • However, the biggest divide is Among those with a college education, 89% are Internet users, compared to 60% of those who completed secondary school.

Did increased digital connectivity help in access to remote education?

  • The survey found that 80% of school-age children in the country had no access to remote education at all during the 18 months that schools were shut in lockdown. Even though 64% of households with school-aged children had Internet connections.
  • Less than a third of children in such homes were able to leverage connectivity into classes of any sort, mostly because of the lack of larger screen devices as well as a lack of preparedness among schools.
  • The situation was significantly worse among those from lower socio-economic classes, or where the head of the household had lower education levels.
  • Nationwide, 38% of households reported that at least one child had dropped out of school completely due to Covid-19.

How did digital access impact work patterns?

  • Only 10% of those employed during the lockdowns were able to work from home. Those in finance, insurance, information technology, and communications fields formed the biggest chunk of those who were able to do remote work during the lockdowns.
  • About 43% also reported that remote work meant they were forced to undertake more tasks and work longer hours than usual.
  • A significant minority of those engaged in remote work ran into device and connectivity challenges. About 27% reported that they were forced to share devices with another household member, while 16% reported that the available devices were unsuitable for work and another 16% faced poor network quality.

How did Internet access or lack of it affect healthcare during the pandemic?

  • About 15% of the sampled respondents said they required healthcare access for non-COVID relate purposes during the most severe national and state lockdown.
  • Telemedicine and online doctor consultation surged during these times, but only 38% reported that they were able to access such services.
  • About medical information on Covid-19 symptoms and treatments, about 40% of respondents depended on television channels for advice as to their most trusted source, well above the quarter of respondents who depended on face-to-face interactions with the doctor.

What can be done to build an inclusive digital future? 

  • Oriented around seven building blocks – access, use, innovation, trust, jobs, society, and market openness – the framework brings together the policies that governments must consider to shape a common digital future that improves lives and boosts economic growth and well-being.
  • Digital literacy-Digital literacy needs special attention at the school/college level. The National Digital Literacy Mission should focus on introducing digital literacy at the primary school level in all government schools for basic content and higher classes and colleges for advanced content.
  • Language-State governments should pay particular attention to content creation in the Indian regional languages, particularly those related to government services. Natural language processing ( NLP) in Indian languages needs to be promoted.
  • Role of regulators-Regulators should minimize entry barriers by reforming licensing, taxation, spectrum allocation norms. TRAI can consider putting in place a credible system. This system will track call drops, weak signals, and outages. It ensures the quality and reliability of telecom services.
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